Epstein was born and raised just outside of Baltimore in Pikesville, and went to college at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he majored in biology and accounting. He was interested in research and earned a master’s degree in subcellular biology.
After finishing his degree, his wife, Susan, became pregnant with the first of their two children and Epstein decided it was time to “get a real job” as an accountant with the firm now known as Ernst & Young, in Baltimore. He became a certified public accountant in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania.
He didn’t become involved in politics until 1984, four years after switching his political party affiliation to Republican after disagreeing with the Democratic Party’s economic positions.
He was baptized into the political scene at a client’s fund- raiser for Helen Delich Bentley, then a third-time congressional candidate from Baltimore County. Epstein said he was impressed by Bentley and joined her campaign as treasurer.
Bentley is impressed with Epstein, too. “Larry is a very able young man with the highest integrity,” said Bentley, who endorsed him in the GOP primary. But Bentley said she feels “very divided loyalties” on the comptroller’s race, with two of her “very best friends” running.
Epstein first ran for comptroller in 1990, against Goldstein, who had already been the incumbent for four terms. “I didn’t really expect to beat him, but I thought I have to pay my dues to run in the future,” Epstein said.
After getting only 28 percent of the vote to Goldstein’s 72 percent, Epstein was appointed chairman of the Tax and Budget committees of Baltimore County government. He said he functioned as the county’s comptroller.
He did not seek the GOP comptroller nomination in 1994, because he had forged a friendship with Goldstein following the 1990 elections and did not want to challenge him.
But that election year created – and continues to create – problems for him. After Bentley lost the GOP primary for governor to Ellen Sauerbrey, Epstein said he was mistakenly identified as being part of a group called Republicans for Glendening.
In a recent interview, he denied being a member of the group, but said he was present at its 1994 press conference at which Democrat Parris N. Glendening was endorsed. He said he was invited to talk to Glendening about his economic views, but did not endorse him.
“I agreed to meet with [Glendening] at the [World] Trade Center to talk for about 40 minutes,” Epstein said. “I have never talked with Glendening since; I never contributed to his campaign.”
But Morgan Wootten, basketball coach at DeMatha High School and a member of the group, remembers things differently. “We all knew we were going to come out for Glendening,” Wootten said. “[Epstein] must be switching gears.”
Epstein was quoted in a Washington Times article on Oct. 26, 1994, criticizing Sauerbrey’s tax cut plan. “The tax savings is nothing but a sham and a joke,” Epstein was quoted as saying. “Ellen Sauerbrey could be a disaster to the fiscal health of the state of Maryland.”
This year, Epstein said he and Sauerbrey, again the GOP gubernatorial nominee, are running separate campaigns, but are working together.
Carol Hirschburg, a Sauerbrey spokeswoman, said Sauerbrey is supporting all of the GOP candidates but they are campaigning separately.
Epstein said his primary nomination in September came as a surprise, especially since Timothy Mayberry, the GOP primary candidate who came in second, had been actively campaigning since the spring and Michael Steele, who came in third, had been recruited and endorsed by Sauerbrey.
Epstein said he was so sure he had lost the night of the primary, he gave a concession speech and went to bed. He learned at 1 a.m. from a reporter he was leading the race by 300 votes. In the official tally released later, he won by eight.
Epstein describes himself as fiscally conservative and said his style is different than his opponent’s: “I am not going to wear any funny hats or … jump in the seal pool,” Epstein said, referring to past publicity stunts performed by Schaefer during his terms as Baltimore City mayor and Maryland governor. “I am here to do a job.”
First and foremost, Epstein plans to maintain the AAA bond rating – a top rating which saves Maryland taxpayers millions of dollars in interest each year – by practicing good financial management and making sure Maryland works within its budget.
He also wants to make the office more “taxpayer friendly,” and get the comptroller’s computers ready for the year 2000. Marvin Bond, the assistant state comptroller, said much of the work has already been done. The comptroller’s office is responsible for maintaining computer databases for 19 state agencies, Bond said.
Epstein said he would like to use the comptroller job as a “soap box,” encouraging more cost-effective practices at other state agencies and encouraging the Board of Public Works to stimulate economic development in Maryland. The comptroller, governor and state treasurer make up the Board of Public Works, which is responsible for selling the state’s general obligation bonds, used to finance state projects, and approving major state contracts.
“What people have to understand is that when your big corporations move into a state, taxes grow geometrically,” Epstein said, with increases in employment and spending.
But Schaefer still leads in the polls, and analysts expect the Nov. 3 vote to reflect this. Epstein “got off to a late start and is facing one of Maryland’s most popular politicians,” said Paul Herrnson, a government and politics professor at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Bentley said the race will be closer than analysts and polls are projecting. “I think [Epstein] is going to make a good showing,” she said. Epstein says he is the most qualified candidate. “[I think] a lot of people felt I was the only one with a real chance to beat Don Schaefer,” Epstein said. “I understand what has to be done and how it has to be done.” -30-